"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18, NIV).
What are you afraid of?
Being a certified introvert, there are a few things I'm not too keen on, such as public speaking of any kind. Even sharing my writing is done with a degree of fear and trepidation, which is ironic since a writer writes to be read. But, I fear, God has a sense of humor in the way He doles out giftings, talents, and callings.
Am I afraid of speaking in public because I fear the audience may punish me if I don't do well? Or do I punish myself by obsessing on the possibility of failure and embarrassment? So far, I've not been beaten up by any group I've spoken to. But, in the process of preparation, and usually up to about half-way into my talks, I've tortured myself mercilessly, imagining all manner of horrors, from appearing with an unzipped fly to presenting a talk that made no sense to anyone but myself. Amazingly, none of these imagined fears has ever happened.
But what does it mean that "perfect love" eliminates fear?
Everyone is afraid of something. The dark. Spiders. Sharks. Heights. The list of potential fears is nearly infinite. Most are irrational. For example, a person who is afraid of sharks but never goes near or in the ocean, and lives in Wyoming, will most likely never encounter a shark. So what motivates the fear?
Being free of fear is a good thing. And that takes us back to the "perfect love" part.
Some fear is based on legitimate guilt over real sins. Peter sinned by lying and denying Christ three times. But just look at how Christ addressed Peter's guilt. He asks Peter three times if he loves Him. And each time after Peter responds positively, Christ gives him a task; to take care of His sheep, His church (see John 21).
Fear freezes. Love frees.
Christ knew Peter loved him, but he wanted Peter to hear himself say it so Peter would be stirred to even more perfect love, erasing his own self-doubts and guilt. At the same time, Christ confirmed His love and trust of Peter by commissioning him for incredibly important work.
No matter the source of fear, love is the answer.
God is love (1 John 4:8). His fear-banishing love was perfectly exhibited through Christ's death on the cross. He loved us first, which stirs love in us (1 John 4:19). His Spirit in us makes his love tangible and equips us for competence (2 Timothy 1:7). Nothing can separate us, His children, from His love (Romans 8). And we can trust absolutely in His unfailing love (Psalm 13:5).
So, when we get a little trembly in the dark, or sweaty behind a podium, or trepidatious about a current life challenge, how do we respond? In fear? "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37, NIV).